April Wisdom lives in what she called the “fruit desert.”
The Mexico Beach resident aimed to change her own perceptions of the area by founding a community garden at the Under the Palms Park on 7th Street that would connect locals and bring fresh food into the community.
“It’s hard to find fresh produce,” said Wisdom. “And there are zero organic options available here.”
Wisdom’s project was given the green light by the Mexico Beach City Council in October when she presented the idea, needing only the land and for the city to pay the water bill.
Her reasoning was simple: Mexico Beach is home to a large number of apartments and condos, most of which don’t have a yard. Even when they do, Florida’s soil and the strong Gulf winds make growing produce difficult.
By day, Wisdom is the head of the health promotions department in the 325th Medical Group at Tyndall Air Force Base.
She said that her professional background played a huge role in starting the venture.
“Many children don’t know that their food is made in a factory,” said Wisdom. “We take the food system for granted and the food system is broken.
“The food system in America has led to hamburgers being cheaper than salads. Supporting a community garden is one way to reverse that.”
In addition to nutrition benefits that come with growing and consuming fresh produce, Wisdom is interested in the environmental and social benefits as well.
“People want a reason to get out and meet others,” said Wisdom. “The goal is to build unity amongst the community.
“When people have a sense of community they have a sense of what is bigger than oneself. Participating in the community garden not only helps the planet by providing organic produce for the members and their families and cutting the traditional commute of produce by many, many miles, but it gives members a direct relationship with their food.”
When she went before the city council she explained that community gardens have also been proven to raise property values.
Since the project received approval, eight raised beds have been constructed in the park and all eight have been leased. Wisdom plans to complete construction on four more beds before the New Year and aims to eventually have 27 beds for rent.
Initial construction was funded through community donations and Wisdom plans to add a community shed and shared gardening tools in the future.
Each 8-foot-by-4-foot bed costs $115 to build and beds are rented for $50 per year.
In the short time since the project was approved by the council, Wisdom has received great support from the community.
“My neighbors saw the council meeting on TV and the next time they saw me, they said ‘You’re the garden woman!’” laughed Wisdom.
Wisdom said that she’s met a lot of people in the community the same way, but conversation has helped spread the word bringing together those interested in gardening, snowbirds who want to grow produce while vacationing and even widows who enjoy spending time outside with others.
Bed rentals are not limited to Mexico Beach residents, but for those outside the city with green thumbs, Wisdom stressed the importance of being able to tend to a garden every 1-2 days.
From initial idea to council approval, the process took about three months. Wisdom drew her inspiration from other successful community gardens in densely populated areas. Even nearby cities, including Apalachicola, Panama City and Destin have had much success with them.
“Members can raise hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce for $50 a year, keep gardening alive and improving their health all at once,” said Wisdom.
Those interested in renting a plot will need to file an application and pay a $50 fee that covers their gardening for a year. They can call Wisdom at 227-8920.